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Critics Slam US Officials for Decrying Displacement in Gaza While Arming Israel

The State Department said it “rejects” suggestions that Gaza’s Palestinian population should be permanently evicted.

Israeli army artillery units, howitzers and tanks continue their attacks on Gaza as Israeli military mobility continues, in Re'im, Israel, on December 27, 2023.

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday condemned a pair of high-ranking Israeli officials for suggesting that Gaza’s Palestinian population should be permanently evicted from their territory — a sentiment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly expressed in private.

But critics said the State Department’s outraged reaction to recent comments by Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich rings hollow given that the Biden administration continues to provide weaponry and diplomatic cover for Israel’s relentless assault on the Gaza Strip, which has killed tens of thousands of people and internally displaced 90% of the enclave’s population in less than three months.

“This is what the U.S. has done for more than 40 years on Israel-Palestine,” Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote in response to the State Department. “Enable and fund Israeli policies that ultimately lead to Israel’s annexation of Palestinian lands, while publicly opposing and condemning the logical outcome of the very policies the U.S. funds and enables.”

In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the Biden administration “rejects” Smotrich and Ben-Gvir’s remarks “advocating for the resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza.”

“This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible,” said Miller. “We have been told repeatedly and consistently by the government of Israel, including by the prime minister, that such statements do not reflect the policy of the Israeli government. They should stop immediately.”

United Nations experts and human rights groups have been warning since the early stages of Israel’s latest attack on Gaza that the Israeli government could be pursuing a repeat — on a larger scale — of the 1948 Nakba, during which more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and lands. Israel’s agriculture minister has referred to the ongoing Gaza assault as “Nakba 2023,” and elected Israeli officials have repeatedly called for the mass transfer of Gaza’s Palestinian population.

The Times of Israel reported Wednesday that “Israeli officials have held clandestine talks with the African nation of Congo and several others for the potential acceptance of Gaza emigrants.”

During a November call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, U.S. President Joe Biden expressed that “under no circumstances will the United States permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

But the administration has done nothing substantive to ensure that the Israeli military does not pursue the mass, forcible, and permanent displacement of Gazans — which would be a war crime under international law.

In its recent request for billions of dollars in additional military aid for Israel, the White House asks Congress to approve funding that “may be used to meet evolving programming replacements outside of Gaza,” a provision that human rights groups warned would facilitate the forced transfer of Palestinians out of the Gaza Strip.

Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said Wednesday that the Biden administration’s attempt to claim “moral high grounds” while simultaneously obstructing the international push for a cease-fire and selling lethal weaponry to Israel is “cynical and cannot work.”

“And speaking of ‘resettlement of Palestinians outside Gaza’ is misleading,” she added. “Given the context, it’s likely to be forced deportation.”

Just days before its denunciation of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, the U.S. State Department announced that — for the second time since October — it had bypassed congressional oversight to approve a $147.5 million arms sale to Israel. The latest sale includes 155mm artillery shells, weaponry that human rights groups have specifically warned the Pentagon not to provide to the Israeli military.

“In Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated places, 155mm artillery shells are inherently indiscriminate,” a coalition of groups wrote in a November letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “These munitions are unguided and have a high error radius, often landing 25 meters away from the intended target. Upon impact, 155mm shells expel 2,000 sharp metal fragments in every direction, risking injury, death, and permanent disability to civilians within 300 meters of the blast.”

“155mm artillery shells do not serve legitimate defense needs and pose a grave risk to civilians,” the groups added.

In a social media post on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called the Biden administration’s decision to circumvent congressional review of the arms sale “morally indefensible.”

“How can we expect Netanyahu’s government to stop the mass killing of civilians and calls for ethnic cleansing,” she asked, “if we continue to supply the weapons used to carry it out?”

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